Before the pandemic, I didn't even know Microsoft Teams existed. Like millions of other people, I used a mish-mash of different communication tools at work. Now, it's hard to remember what life was like before Teams.
As I was writing an article comparing Teams and Zoom, I realized there were too many awesome things going on with Teams to talk about in one article. So, here's a deeper dive into some of the best Microsoft Teams meeting features.
1. Meeting recap
If you're not able to attend a meeting live (or you just need a recap), Teams lets you easily revisit the meeting material.
As soon as a meeting ends, Teams automatically saves all material associated with the event: the video recording (if you recorded it), any shared files, loop components, and if you're the host, the attendance report. If you switch on live captioning (another awesome Teams meeting feature, by the way—it can even translate into different languages in real-time), it'll save a copy of the transcript too.
You'll find all the recap material in the meeting Chat window or in the Details section of the invite in your Teams calendar.
2. Virtual whiteboards
Virtual whiteboards make in-office brainstorm sessions seem so inefficient—not to mention boring. Think about it: it's so normal to have a dozen people collaborating on a virtual whiteboard, but can you imagine everyone huddled around an office whiteboard with a marker in their hand? 😬
Teams' virtual whiteboards go above and beyond, making it feel like a bespoke online whiteboard app.
You can drag and drop images and video directly onto a whiteboard and create shapes like arrows and perfect rectangles without trying to (very badly) draw them on the board freehand. But my favorite part is the templates. There's a full catalog of different meeting-related templates (e.g., brainstorming, SWOT analysis, and affinity diagrams) that you can drop on your board and start scribbling on as the basis for your meeting.
To access a virtual whiteboard during a meeting, hit the Share button, and select Microsoft Whiteboard (you'll see a whiteboard button in the chat menu too).
And yes, whiteboards are also automatically saved to the meeting recap. I swear they've thought of everything.
3. Loop components
The name of this feature makes it sound like you need a CS degree to use it, but it's actually just a fancy name for a simple concept. Microsoft's loop components are interactive units that help you collaborate and make decisions together in the chat during a meeting. Think: an agenda, a to-do list, or even an event plan.
You send a component during the meeting, and everyone can edit and collaborate on that component in real-time. Any loop components you create are saved in the meeting chat and also saved to OneDrive, so you can continue working on them after the meeting too.
To create a loop component, click on the loop icon in the meeting chat window. A few different options will come up—pick the one you want, and start collaborating.
Looking at 49 faces on a single screen is intense—especially if a few different people will be speaking. The spotlighting feature in Teams allows the organizer or presenter to decide which participant(s) should be the main focus of the meeting, instead of just highlighting whoever showed up to the meeting first.
Spotlighting a participant enlarges their window and brings them to the top of the screen, so they appear more prominently. You might want to spotlight senior management in a team meeting or a panel of people who are going to present.
It's also easy to switch around who's in the spotlight: click the three dots to the right of their window and hit Spotlight. You can spotlight up to seven people at one time, and the same view will appear for everyone in the meeting. FYI: spotlighting doesn't show up in meeting recordings, and it also doesn't work if you're in Large Gallery View or Together Mode.
(P.S. Does this all sound terrifying to you? If you're feeling a little camera-shy and want to de-spotlight yourself, you can go to People > Participants and click the three dots next to your name. You'll see the option there to Exit spotlight.)
5. Presenter mode
There was a time when doing presentations online felt impersonal and clunky. But meeting technology has advanced so quickly that presenting in person now feels pretty old school.
Teams has a few presenter modes you can use when working with slides during a meeting, and they're all really slick and engaging.
Content only. This is just your slides on the screen.
Side-by-side. Like it sounds: you and your slides in separate boxes side-by-side.
Standout. Here, your background gets replaced with your slides, and you hover over the top.
Reporter. Your slides appear in a box above your shoulder like—you guessed it!—a news reporter.
To switch on presenter mode, go to Share in the top-right once your meeting starts, and select one of the options under Presenter mode. Hover over the icons, and the name of each option will appear.
You can also switch from one mode to another in the middle of your presentation by clicking the icons that will reappear in the presenter toolbar at the top of your screen.
6. Meeting reactions
If you've ever presented online to a sea of people who are all on mute, you know just how awkward it can feel. Not being able to read people's reactions or get the occasional encouraging nod from your teammates isn't great for your confidence.
This is where Teams' reactions feature works really well. There are five different types of reactions participants can choose from—standard fare.
When meeting attendees click on a reaction, the reactions bubble up along the bottom of the presentation slides, so you and everyone else in the meeting can see them. It's a small touch, but it has a big impact on the vibe of the meeting.
If someone wants to ask a question during the presentation, they can use the raised hand icon—that will bring them to the top of the screen so the host can see them. There's even a keyboard shortcut for this one (
control + shift + K). Just remember to repeat the shortcut to put your hand down again. An important tip for anyone else who's spent a whole meeting with their hand raised.
7. Together Mode
When you're attending remote team meetings day in and day out in gallery mode, it gets a bit boring. So Teams spiced it up. Together Mode makes it look like you and your teammates are all in a room together. Or at least it attempts to.
You can choose from a catalog of virtual venues, including a lecture hall, an amphitheater, or (shock horror!) an office space. It sounds a bit corny, but in my experience, it actually works. There's just something about seeing your colleagues' faces in a different format that brings a bit of life to the meeting.
To switch on Together Mode, click the three dots in the meeting menu, and select Together Mode; a list of backgrounds will pop up for you to choose from. Apologies to your 1:1s—for this feature to work, you need to have between four and 49 people in your meeting.
8. Mute notifications
I learned about this feature the hard way. I was once in the office, presenting online to senior staff, when a notification popped up from someone else in the office asking what I wanted for lunch. Not the most professional moment of my career.
But embarrassment aside, any notifications popping up when you're in presentation mode—or even just in the middle of a call—can be incredibly distracting. That's why Teams lets you change your settings so that notifications are always muted during meetings and calls.
Go to Settings > Notifications > Meetings and Calls, and switch on Mute notifications during meetings and calls. This will keep all in-app notifications automatically muted for calls until you go back in and change it again.
Keep in mind that this will only mute Teams in-app notifications. If you use any other programs that send desktop notifications, you'll need to mute them separately, or use a notification-blocking app.
9. Meeting polls
If you're in a meeting and you want to get everyone's opinion on something quickly, you can run a quick poll in the meeting chat window. Think of it like a "raise your hand if…" moment in an in-person meeting.
To run a poll, go to the messaging extensions button (three dots below the chat bar) and search for the Forms app.
Once you select it, the option will instantly appear to create a poll question and potential answers you want to use. Add your question, and hit Send. The poll will appear in the meeting chat window, and the results will come through below the poll in real-time.
Microsoft is constantly developing new meetings features for Teams—by the time you're reading this article, I bet there will already be something new to add to the list. So any time you see a new option pop up in your Teams menu or a new icon appear in chat, it's worth exploring. You probably have a need for it—you just don't know it yet.